Samurai Jack is an American action-adventure animated television series created by Genndy Tartakovsky for Cartoon Network and Adult Swim. Tartakovsky conceived Samurai Jack after finishing his work on his first Cartoon Network original series, Dexter's Laboratory, which premiered in 1996. Samurai Jack was inspired by Tartakovsky's enjoyment of the Kung Fu televised drama starring David Carradine as well as his fascination with samurai culture.
|Created by||Genndy Tartakovsky|
|Theme music composer|
|Opening theme||"Samurai Jack" (seasons 1–4)|
|Ending theme||"Samurai Jack"|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||5|
|No. of episodes||62 (list of episodes)|
|Running time||22 minutes|
|Original release||August 10, 2001 –|
May 20, 2017
The titular character, "Jack", is an unnamed[a 1] Japanese samurai who wields a magic katana capable of cutting through virtually anything, that he must use to defeat the ultimate evil being known as Aku. Originally, before Jack could finish him off, Aku sent the samurai forward in time to a dystopian future ruled by the tyrannical shape-shifting demon. Jack, who was brought to the future with only his gi, geta, and sword, quests to travel back to his own time and defeat Aku before he can take over the world. Jack's search for a way back to his own time period transcends Aku's control, but Jack's efforts are largely in vain due to the ways back to his home ending up just out of his reach.
Premiering on August 10, 2001, with a three-part made-for-TV movie called The Premiere Movie, the first episode has nine and half minutes of silence, without dialogue—which was unheard of in children's animation featured on any American television show—a hallmark staple of the series in addition to its groundbreaking animation style that featured character designs without black outlines. Samurai Jack originally ran for four seasons comprising thirteen episodes each until September 25, 2004, without concluding the overarching story. The show was revived twelve years later for a darker, more mature fifth season that provided a conclusion to Jack's story; it premiered on Adult Swim's Toonami programming block on March 11, 2017, and concluded with its final episode, which serves as the series finale, on May 20, 2017. Episodes were directed by Tartakovsky, often in collaboration with others.
Long ago in a distant land, I, Aku, the shape-shifting Master of Darkness, unleashed an unspeakable evil! But a foolish samurai warrior wielding a magic sword stepped forth to oppose me. Before the final blow was struck, I tore open a portal in time and flung him into the future, where my evil is law! Now the fool seeks to return to the past, and undo the future that is Aku!— Aku, in the original opening title sequence, used in episodes 2 through 52
Samurai Jack tells the story of a young prince (voiced by Phil LaMarr) from a feudal Japan kingdom, whose father (Sab Shimono and Keone Young) was given a magical katana from three gods — Ra, Rama, and Odin — that he could and had used to defeat and imprison his soon to be arch-enemy, the supernatural shape-shifting demon Aku (Mako, and later Greg Baldwin for Season 5). Eight years later, Aku escaped, took over the land and held the Emperor hostage, but not before the prince was sent away by his mother to travel the world and train so he could return and use the magic sword to defeat Aku. On his return, the prince-turned-samurai faced and almost defeated Aku, but before he could land a finishing blow, Aku created a time portal that sent him into the distant future, anticipating that he would be able to deal with the samurai by that time.
The samurai prince arrives in a dystopian retrofuturistic Earth ruled by Aku. The first people he encounters call him "Jack" as a form of slang, which he adopts as his name. His given name is never mentioned. Most episodes depict Jack overcoming various obstacles in his quest to travel back to his own time and defeat Aku, and his quest is prolonged occasionally by moments where either he nearly succeeds in returning to his own time, or conversely, Aku nearly succeeds in defeating Jack, only to be thwarted by the unexpected.
Fifty years have passed, but I do not age. Time has lost its effect on me. Yet, the suffering continues. Aku's grasp chokes the past, present and future. Hope is lost. Got to get back, back to the past, Samurai Jack.— Jack, in the second opening title sequence, used in episodes XCII through CI
The retro-futuristic world is inhabited by a variety of denizens such as robots, extraterrestrials, talking animals, monsters, magical beings, deities, and even a Scotsman who wields an enchanted sword. Areas may have advanced technology like flying cars, while others resemble ancient times or industrial conditions. What's more, Aku has brought aliens from other planets to inhabit Earth, while destroying the habitability of the alien planets. Criminals and fugitives of all kinds and/or forms are very common on Aku's Earth. Mythological and supernatural creatures make regular appearances and coexist among the technologically-advanced inhabitants.
However, the planet has hardly been urbanized, and there are a number of episodes that take place in uninhabited areas of the world, such as forests, jungles and mountains, which have remained largely untouched even as Aku began his conquest and reign over every sentient being. There are even a few communities that have not been affected by Aku's dominance, such as the Shaolin monks, who have managed to hide and maintain their numbers in a secret place beyond the reach of Aku's seemingly omniscient vision.
|First aired||Last aired||Network|
|1||13||August 10, 2001||December 3, 2001||Cartoon Network|
|2||13||March 1, 2002||October 11, 2002|
|3||13||October 18, 2002||August 26, 2003|
|4||13||June 14, 2003||September 25, 2004|
|5||10||March 11, 2017||May 20, 2017||Adult Swim|
Samurai Jack was created by Genndy Tartakovsky as a follow-up to his successful series Dexter's Laboratory. Cartoon Network executive Mike Lazzo recalled Tartakovsky pitching him the series: "He said, 'Hey, remember David Carradine in Kung Fu? Wasn't that cool?' and I was like, 'Yeah, that's really cool.' That was literally the pitch." Cartoon Network billed it as a series "that is cinematic in scope and that incorporates action, humor, and intricate artistry."
Influences and designEdit
The basic premise of Samurai Jack comes from Tartakovsky's childhood fascination with samurai culture and the bushido code,(42:56) as well as a recurring dream where he'd wander a post-apocalyptic Earth with a samurai sword and travel the world fighting mutants with his crush. The show is meant to evoke 1970s cinematography, as well as classic Hollywood films such as Ben-Hur, Lawrence of Arabia(46:44) and Spartacus. Thematic and visual inspirations come from Frank Miller's comic book series Rōnin, including the premise of a master-less samurai warrior thrown into a dystopic future in order to battle a shape-shifting demon. Similarly, the episode "Jack and the Spartans" was specifically inspired by Miller's graphic novel 300 that retold the Battle of Thermopylae. The Japanese comic Lone Wolf and Cub and films by Akira Kurosawa were also an inspiration. The episode "Jack and the Scotsman" is based on the story of how Robin Hood and Little John became friends in English folklore.
The network announced the series' launch at a press conference on February 21, 2001. Weeks leading up to the series were accompanied by a sweepstakes giveaway sponsored by AOL in which the grand prize was a trip for four to Japan. The promotion also included sneak peeks of Samurai Jack, behind-the-scenes model sheets, as well as exclusive Cartoon Orbit cToons. Samurai Jack debuted on Cartoon Network on August 10, 2001, with the three-part special "The Beginning". The premiere received high praise and four award nominations, and was released as a standalone VHS and DVD on March 19, 2002. As production of the fourth season was ending, with four seasons of 13 episodes each or 52 episodes of Samurai Jack in total, Tartakovsky and the crew moved on to other projects. The show ended with the airing of the four final episodes as a marathon on September 25, 2004.
Conclusion and revivalEdit
The original series was left open-ended after the conclusion of the fourth season. Tartakovsky said, "coming close to [the end of] the fourth season, we're like, 'are we gonna finish it?' And I didn't know... The network didn't know, they were going through a lot of transitions also. So I decided, you know, I don't want to rush and finish the whole story, and so we just left it like there is no conclusion and then [the final episode is] just like another episode". Art director Scott Wills added, "We didn't have time to think about it, because we went right into Clone Wars. They even overlapped, I think. There was no time to even think about it."
A film intended to conclude the story of Samurai Jack had been in development at different times by four different studios.(2:50) As early as 2002, Cartoon Network was producing a Samurai Jack live action feature film, in association with New Line Cinema. Tartakovsky said in a 2006 interview that the live action version of Samurai Jack was thankfully abandoned, and that "we will finish the story, and there will be an animated film." Fred Seibert announced in 2007 that the newly-formed Frederator Films was developing a Samurai Jack movie, which was planned to be in stereoscopic 2D with a budget of 20 million dollars. Seibert said in 2009 the film was being co-produced with J. J. Abrams' Bad Robot Productions. Sony Pictures Entertainment expressed interest in developing a Samurai Jack film in 2012. Genndy Tartakovsky said in an interview with IGN the Samurai Jack movie is in pre-production: "I've been trying so hard every year, and the one amazing thing about Jack is that I did it in 2001, you know, and it still survived. There's something about it that's connected with people. And I want it, it's number 1 on my list, and now Bob Osher, the president, is like 'Hey, let's talk about Jack. Let's see what we can do.' And I go, 'You're going to do a 2D feature animated movie?' and he's like, 'Yeah. Maybe. Let's do some research and let's see.' So it's not dead for sure by any means, and it's still on the top of my list, and I'm trying as hard as I can." Tartakovsky said the loss of Mako Iwamatsu (Aku's voice actor) would also need to be addressed. The feature film project never materialized, and eventually the series concluded with a fifth television season.
Samurai Jack returned to television over twelve years after its fourth season concluded, with the first episode of its fifth season airing on Adult Swim on March 11, 2017. Produced at Cartoon Network Studios and Williams Street with Tartakovsky as executive producer, the fifth and final season features more mature elements and a cohesive narrative that concludes Jack's journey. The story takes place fifty years after Jack was cast into the future. In despair from the years of fighting Aku and from Aku's destruction of the remaining time portals, Jack—who has not aged as a side effect of the time travel—is haunted by warped visions of himself, of his family, and of an enigmatic, deathly warrior on horseback. Phil LaMarr reprises his role as Jack; Greg Baldwin provided the voice of Aku. Mako, who voiced Aku in the show's first four seasons, died ten years before the revival was produced.
In 2004, British broadcaster Channel 4 ran a poll of the 100 greatest cartoons, in which Samurai Jack achieved the 42nd position. The show was ranked 11th by IGN for its Top 25 Primetime Animated Series of All Time list in 2006. IGN also ranked the show 43rd in its Top 100 Animated Series list in 2009. The series has also received an approval rating of 93% on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. The first season received an approval rating of 80% while the fourth and fifth seasons received an approval rating of 100%. The fifth season's consensus reads, "An increasing intensity and maturity are evident in Samurai Jack's beautifully animated, action-packed, and overall compelling fifth season."
Matt Zoller Seitz, a film critic for RogerEbert.com and television critic for Vulture, considers Samurai Jack, along with Tartakovsky's Star Wars: Clone Wars, to be a masterwork and one of the greatest American animated shows on television, mainly for its visual style:
[A]lthough Tartakovsky is a good storyteller, in a silent-movie sort of way—expressing what’s happening moment-to-moment through picture and sound rather than in dialogue—I never watched either of these programs for their plots, and I don’t re-watch them for narrative, either. I re-watch them for the same reason that I visit art museums, attend live concerts, and pause during journeys from point A to point B in New York to watch dancers, acrobats, or street musicians: because I appreciate virtuosity for its own sake. And that’s what Tartakovsky’s Clone Wars and Samurai Jack give you, scene for scene and shot for shot .... [T]he plot was never the point. It was always about the visual music that Tartakovsky, his designers, and his animators created onscreen.
Awards and nominationsEdit
|2002||Annie Award||Outstanding Character Design in an Animated Television Production||Lynne Naylor
for "Jack and the Warrior Woman"
|Outstanding Music in an Animated Television Production||James L. Venable
for "The Beginning"
|Outstanding Production Design in an Animated Television Production||Dan Krall
for "The Beginning"
|Outstanding Production Design in an Animated Television Production||Scott Wills
for "The Beginning"
|Outstanding Storyboarding in an Animated Television Production||Bryan Andrews
for "Jack and the Three Blind Archers"
|OIAF Award||Best Television Series||Genndy Tartakovsky
for "Jack and the Three Blind Archers"
|Annecy Official Selection||Special Award for Television Series||Genndy Tartakovsky
for "Jack and the Three Blind Archers"
|Primetime Emmy Award||Outstanding Animated Program (For Programming One Hour or More)||Brian A. Miller, Yu Mun Jeong, Yeol Jung Chang, Paul Rudish, Genndy Tartakovsky, Bong Koh Jae
for "The Beginning, Parts 1–3"
|TCA Award||Outstanding Achievement in Children's Programming||Samurai Jack||Nominated|
|2003||Annie Award||Outstanding Achievement in an Animated Television Production||Cartoon Network Studios||Nominated|
|Outstanding Character Design in an Animated Television Production||Andy Suriano
for "Jack and the Haunted House"
|Outstanding Directing in an Animated Television Production||Genndy Tartakovsky and Robert Alvarez
for "The Birth of Evil"
|Outstanding Production Design in an Animated Television Production||Scott Wills
for "The Birth of Evil"
|Primetime Emmy Award||Outstanding Individual Achievement in Animation||Scott Wills
for "Jack and the Traveling Creatures"
|Outstanding Individual Achievement in Animation||Dan Krall
for "Jack and the Spartans"
|2004||Annie Award||Outstanding Directing in a Television Production||Genndy Tartakovsky
for "Tale of X-49"
|Outstanding Production Design in a Television Production||Richard Daskas
for "Seasons of Death"
|Primetime Emmy Award||Outstanding Animated Program (For Programming Less Than One Hour)||Genndy Tartakovsky, Brian A. Miller, Don Shank, Robert Alvarez, Randy Myers, Yu Mun Jeong, Bong Koh Jae, James T. Walker
for "The Birth of Evil"
|2005||Outstanding Animated Program (For Programming Less Than One Hour)||Genndy Tartakovsky, Brian A. Miller, Bryan Andrews, Mark Andrews, Hueng-soon Park, Kwang-bae Park, Randy Myers, James T. Walker
for "Seasons of Death"
|Outstanding Individual Achievement in Animation||Bryan Andrews
for "Seasons of Death"
|2017||Primetime Emmy Award||Outstanding Individual Achievement in Animation||Bryan Andrews
for "Episode XCIII"
for "Episode XCIII"
for "Episode XCII"
for "Episode XCV"
Like other previous Cartoon Network shows, Samurai Jack DVDs were released by Warner Home Video between 2002 and 2007. The DVDs include episode numbers in Roman numerals as they appear at the end of each episode but remain untitled. Season 1 was released on Netflix streaming service in 2013. Samurai Jack: The Complete Series was released on Blu-ray and Digital HD on October 17, 2017, and contains remastered versions of the first four seasons of the series, courtesy of ACMEworks Digital Film, Inc. The series is also available on HBO Max since May 27, 2020.
|Region 1||Region 4|
|The Premiere Movie||4||March 19, 2002||October 10, 2007||Available on DVD and VHS, this release contains the first 3 episodes of season 1 ("The Beginning" (I–III)) as well as the episode "Jack and the Scotsman" (XI) in Dolby Digital 5.1 sound.|
|The Complete First Season||13||May 4, 2004||November 7, 2007||This 2-disc DVD set includes all 13 episodes from season 1. It also includes a "making-of" documentary, an original animation test, original artwork, as well as commentary on "Jack and the Three Blind Archers" (VII).|
|The Complete Second Season||May 24, 2005||March 4, 2009||This 2-disc DVD set includes all 13 episodes from season 2. It also includes commentary on "Jack and the Spartans" (XXV), "Creator Scrapbook", as well as an original pitch for "Jack and the Scotsman, Part 2" (XVII).|
|The Complete Third Season||May 23, 2006||September 9, 2009||This 2-disc DVD set includes all 13 episodes from season 3. It also includes commentary on "The Birth of Evil" (XXXVII/XXXVIII), "Lost Artwork" and a featurette called "Martial Arts of the Samurai".|
|The Complete Fourth Season||August 28, 2007||October 3, 2012||This 2-disc DVD set includes all 13 episodes from season 4. It also includes "Genndy's Roundtable", "Genndy's New Project" (a tour of Orphanage Animation Studios), alternate takes for two snippets of "The Tale of X-49" (L) and Samurai Jack promos.|
|Samurai Jack and Friends||7||October 7, 2014||N/A||This is a re-issue of the first disc of season two, containing its first seven episodes.|
|The Complete Fifth Season||10||October 17, 2017||N/A||This 2-disc DVD includes all 10 episodes from season 5. It also includes "The Evolution of Jack" and detailed reviews of the storyboards of five of this season's episodes (XCIV, XCVI, XCVIII, XCIX and C).|
|Region 1||Region 2||Region 4|
|4 Kid Favorites: The Hall of Fame Collection Vol. 2||7||March 12, 2013||N/A||N/A||4-disc compilation set includes Samurai Jack: Season One, Disc One|
|Region A||Region B||Region C|
|The Complete Series||62||October 17, 2017||December 2, 2019||N/A||The complete series boxset includes all 62 Samurai Jack episodes across all 5 seasons, all remastered in Blu-ray high definition, a first for the previous four seasons. All special features from the videodisc releases of every season except season 4 are also included in this box set, along with new cover art for the prior 4 seasons, steelbook art for the first season's cover and redemption codes for UltraViolet digital versions of all episodes.|
|The Complete Fifth Season||10||October 17, 2017||N/A||N/A||This Blu-ray includes all 10 episodes from season 5, along with the same special features as the DVD version.|
The Samurai Jack world has been seen in the video games Samurai Jack: The Amulet of Time for the Game Boy Advance in 2003 and Samurai Jack: The Shadow of Aku for the GameCube and PlayStation 2 in 2004. Three years after the series was completed, a third game, Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time, was released on August 21, 2020 for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and Apple Arcade. It is the first Samurai Jack game to be available on Microsoft and Apple platforms and serves as an alternative scenario of the series finale.
Several elements of the Samurai Jack concept were reused in several video games: the MMORPG Cartoon Network Universe: FusionFall features Jack, the Scotsman and Demongo as non-playable characters, while Aku is a Nano. The online game Project Exonaut features Jack only as a playable character for the Banzai Squadron. The brawler game Cartoon Network: Punch Time Explosion for Nintendo 3DS, Wii, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 features Jack and the Scotsman as playable characters while Aku is an assist character, a boss and a playable character.
Samurai Jack is voiced by Phil LaMarr once more for most games, and by Keith Ferguson for Cartoon Network: Punch Time Explosion. The Scotsman and Demongo are voiced by John DiMaggio and by Kevin Michael Richardson respectively in Cartoon Network Universe: FusionFall. Due to Mako Iwamatsu's death in 2006, Aku is voiced by Greg Baldwin in Cartoon Network Universe: FusionFall and by Fred Tatasciore in Cartoon Network: Punch Time Explosion.
In February 2013, IDW Publishing announced a partnership with Cartoon Network to produce comics based on its properties. Samurai Jack was one of the titles announced to be published. It was further announced at WonderCon 2013 that the first issue of Samurai Jack would debut in October 2013. The first comic in the series was released October 23, 2013. The final issue came out in May 2015. On October 25, 2016, IDW re-released all of the issues in a compilation entitled "Tales of a Wandering Warrior". Tartakovsky does not consider the comics part of the story of Jack.(4:58)
A year after the series was concluded, a board game adaptation covering all five seasons was released, titled Samurai Jack: Back to the Past. Players work together to complete tasks to help Jack return to the past while competing to earn honor for their actions. It is possible for all players to lose the game if Jack loses his sanity and is driven to suicide, as he nearly does for the first half of season 5.
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